Readers’ Suggestion Week continues. Day 3. Whew! All I can say is… one day to go!!! (I love you guys, but I’ve realized that this blog is harder to write when I’m not using my creative thought processes. But on the other hand, it is a fun exercise in itself: learning how to write for others rather than for my selfish ends… Ahhhh. I’m tasting the journalist in me.)
Well, (I think) this suggestion came from Facebook. I don’t remember what the discussion was, but out of the blue, one friend said… “why don’t you blog about not having a car and how you’ve adjusted to it? No Disrespect – do it!” So let’s do it! Do it HARD!
Yes, around this time last year, I sold my car. Owning a automobile in Arlington, VA is quite ridiculous. First of all, I had the privilege every year of paying personal property taxes on my car… in addition to county registration and state DMV fees. (I’m not sure if any other jurisdiction taxes your car as property… it’s criminal, I tell ya!) And along with gas, insurance, maintenance, (not to mention parking ticket) prices going up every year, I found it harder and harder to justify having a car in the first place. I live so close to public transportation that often times, it was just easier to take the subway into Washington, DC than drive. Towards the end, I was only using my car to make grocery and Target runs…
So one night, after bitterly complaining ad nauseumabout how I didn’t really want or need my car, one of my friends finally got sick of me and put up my automobile on Craigslist without my knowledge. (Thanks, good ma’am.) Surprisingly, my 2001 White Honda Civic started to get mega response. (Well, it had very low mileage because I never drove it. And it was in good condition… well… because I N-E-V-E-R drove it.) So I became serious about selling the darn thing, showing it to friends and neighbors. The week after, one of the Craigslist people offered me cash for it ($500 below Blue Book Value to be exact)… so there it went. As I watched my ‘baby’ being driven off, I panicked. Oh my God… I don’t have a car. I DON’T HAVE A CAR!!! …YAY! OMG – I DON’T OWN THAT MONEY PIT ANYMORE! Instantly, a huge smile came across my face and I did a happy dance.
Now began the hard part. First, I pimped out my bike with a rack and milk carton (for holding groceries) and a blinking head and taillight. Then I had to rent some industrial-sized bolt cutters to actually you know… USE said bike. (Yeah. I forgot the combination. That’s how often I used it. So the U-lock had to be chopped off…) I started to collect bike mapsof the entire region and learned all of the car friendly roads. I figured that biking would be my mode of transportation around town, so I better get some knowledge on fast!
Boy, was I in for some hard truth. If you have never been to Arlington, this place is one big hill. I was using muscles I did not know I had. And, oh. Every driver here is an idiot. Bikers don’t stand one stinkin’ chance against 2,000 pounds of metal. In the end, I just had too many close calls with death. I like my life, so the biking idea was tabled pretty fast for a granny cart and some good running shoes. I am destined to hoof the mean Arlington County sidewalks as a pedestrian.
I also realized that many of my friends also chose to be carless. I solicited their advice to make my life easier… and safer. The best advice ever??? Online shopping! My Amazon/Ebay order queue has grown exponentially since losing my ride. Clothing, shoes, cleaning supplies, prescriptions, furniture, heck… I even ordered a mattress from the comfort of my sofa. I don’t worry anymore about how I’m going to get heavy things home when someone will deliver it to my front door. (And if I look pathetic enough, the delivery person will even carry it up 1 1/2 flights of stairs for moi too!!!)
But not everything can be done via the internet. Buying bottled water, kitty litter and other heavy, heavy items and bringing them to my condo cannot be easily coordinated via the Metro. My biceps (nor my granny cart) can handle the walk home. And sometimes, I have to go to stores that exist only off of the subway lines/buses. (Wegmans, anyone?) Very, very occasionally I do have to call in favors from my friends to be my chauffeur for the day. I’m always feel bad about it, but you know… my friends are good to me. And I try to make it up to them. Gas money if nothing else…
Other adjustments? I always carry around an umbrella now. (There’s nothing worse than walking home umbrella-less during a monsoon…) I rarely wear high heels anymore. (The pain of commuting isn’t worth it.) And it does make me feel bad when I think about how I can’t jump into my car and get out of town easily anymore. But honestly, road trips were rare even when I had an auto. I’d just end up carpooling with someone else. Planes and trains are more my speed anyway.
In the end, I’ve had to really, really learn the Washington Metropolitan Area Bus system. (The subway is pretty limited in where it takes you around here.) Thank God for Smartphones… there are apps telling you when the next bus/subway will arrive so that I always know what time to leave the house. But still, it is a lesson in patience to go anywhere on the Metro… the buses are never on time. The subway’s always under track maintenance. Places that would take me 7-10 minute to arrive via car… take 30-40 minutes on the bus. Sometimes longer. It’s okay though. I catch up on my Book Club reading every time I take public transportation.
When the bus cannot take me where I want to go… in a pinch, there are always taxis. Even if I take a taxi 2-4 times a month – honestly, it’s STILL cheaper than owning a car.
As a result, not only am I saving beaucoup d’cash; I’m in the best shape that I’ve been since college. And it feels GOOD to do my part to save the environment, as cliche as it sounds.
Someday, I may purchase a car again. If I ever move away from the East Coast, having a car will become a necessity again. Being carless with children will cause difficulties as well. But I don’t have to think about either now. It was an experiment at first; but now, it’s become my lifestyle. I enjoy having one less (expensive) material item to worry about. Not to mention stressing out over traffic, gas prices, idiotic drivers who leave dings in my brand new paint job… Oy. You know, my stress levels have dissipated significantly since I stopped driving. That fact negates ALL of the inconveniences of not driving in itself.